With trivial staging and uneven vocalism, FGO’s “Pasquale” wraps season on low note

By Lawrence Budmen

Kristopher Irmiter and Laura Tatulescu in Florida Grand Opera's production of Donizetti's "Don Pasquale."

Kristopher Irmiter and Laura Tatulescu in Florida Grand Opera’s production of Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale.”

Donizetti’s Don Pasquale is one of the gems of Italian opera buffa. The tale of an aging, pompous bachelor who schemes to marry and cut his nephew Ernesto out of his inheritance, only to be outwitted by Norina, Ernesto’s true love, and the wise Dr. Malatesta, is filled to the brim with melodic delights and comedic high jinks.

Unfortunately, Florida Grand Opera’s revisionist staging, which opened Saturday night at the Arsht Center, is too often lacking in the wit and spark that can fill the house with laughter and the fizz of musical champagne.

Director Renaud Doucet has updated the action (from Glasgow-based Scottish Opera) to the Rome of the swinging 1960’s. Don Pasquale is a recluse who collects stray cats and owns a run-down pensione (or guest house). The overture is accompanied by a slide show illustrating Pasquale’s allergy to the cats, Doctor Malatesta’s attempts to cure him and Ernesto’s romantic attachment to Norina. This amusing concept quickly becomes tired as does André Barbe’s unit set, depicting the house, rooftop guest lounge and clothesline.

As in his previous FGO stagings, Doucet peppers the production with almost non-stop sight gags. Cards with lyrics descend from above the stage. Guests arrive only to exist immediately after viewing the cat-infested premises. Norina presents Pasquale with a puppy at the final curtain.

To be sure there were some amusing moments. After the mock wedding when Norina turns shrew and big spender (via Pasquale’s bank account), she removes the cats and fills the house with modern furnishings and lighting, attracting chic tourists.  Along the way, however, the opera’s romance and wisdom and fast-paced farce get completely lost. Indeed this version moves at a slow gait, unaided by conductor Ramon Tebar’s sluggish tempos. The dearth of laughter from the first-night audience was manifest.

Whether because of the set or underpowered singing, there were consistent problems with vocal projection. Lower voices fared best. Kristopher Irmiter was an appropriately bumbling Don Pasquale. His firm bass-baritone comfortably encompassed the role’s lowest reaches and he could spin patter at high speed while stumbling about the stage.

Marco Nisticò has the dark baritonal timbre and agile sense of byplay for Dr. Malatesta. He phrased “Belia sicome un angelo” with grace and a fine cantabile line. Even so, the celebrated Pasquale-Malatesta duet was a low energy affair that failed to make any impact.

Laura Tatulescu captured Norina’s impishness but her lightweight voice turned shrill on top and she lacked the coloratura facility to make the bubbly finale really sing. Playing a wonky Ernesto, Jesus Álvarez’s attractive lyric tenor was constricted in the upper register and a size too small for the house. His “Com’é gentil,” although accurately sung, was wanting in ardor and elegance.

Tebar drew solid orchestra playing but his fussy lingering over details consistently robbed the music of any vitality. With Nisticò in high vocal gear, the Act II quartet managed to work its magic. Yet in this otherwise trivial and vocally lackluster Don Pasquale, that kind of essential sparkle was in short supply.

Florida Grand Opera repeats Don Pasquale 2 p.m. Sunday and 8 p.m. Tuesday, Friday and Saturday at the Arsht Center in Miami. Elena Galván and Daniel Bates play Norina and Ernesto at the Sunday and Friday performances. fgo.org; 800-741-1010.

Posted in Performances

4 Responses to “With trivial staging and uneven vocalism, FGO’s “Pasquale” wraps season on low note”

  1. Posted May 11, 2016 at 10:21 am by Benjamin

    Heard last night. I disagree with Mr. Budmen about the production which I thought was very effective and utterly charming. Concept worked beautifully. Set was attractive and quite functional.

    Totally agree with him about the singers. Pasquale was fine and enjoyable, but the other three were less that I would hope for. I would have preferred to hear the second cast. During the show I was thinking that FGOs young artists would have fared better.

    Have now read both reviews and had I been able to hear the alternative cast, I would have likely concurred with him on that point.

  2. Posted May 11, 2016 at 5:01 pm by Susan

    Wow! Not a photo finish to a rather ho-hum season!! Next season doesn’t look too promising either. There are so many beautiful operas out there and operas that have not been performed often or never performed at all. There is no need to keep repeating the same operas every year or two (Barber, Carmen, Boheme, Butterfly). Although we love them, one gets tired of seeing them so often. Norma was the highlight of the season this year.

    Also, no need to update staging and costumes of operas to modern times. They were written as they are for a reason. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!!

    I hope the FGO takes a hint from the lack of audience interest to spruce up their act. Their contemporary operas of the past few years – The Consul, The Passenger, etc, were not very well received, and yet, we are being presented with yet another for the upcoming season – Before Night Falls. How many hints do they need before they catch on???

    I hope they do, otherwise, I fear that we may lose this wonderful opera company forever!

  3. Posted May 14, 2016 at 6:44 pm by Jung

    Right-on Susan! Completely agree. Plus: Don Pasquale live from the MET in HD, Don Pasquale at the Palm Beach opera, Don Pasquale children’s version in Palm Beach, and Don Pasquale at the FGO. C’mon, people, communicate!

  4. Posted May 16, 2016 at 2:50 am by Laszlo

    For me this was a must see opera.
    Fortunately I purchased tickets for the May 10 and 13 performances.
    Sadly the reviewer is correct about Jesus Alvarez & Laura Tatulescu singing.
    However the rookies showed up on Friday the 13
    and demonstrated what this opera could be.
    Yes Daniel Bates & Elena Galvan gave better vocal range and power.
    Which justified the ticket price surcharge.

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